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Darksiders

 

Darksiders

ESRB: Mature - M
Platform: PS3
Category: Action/Adventure, RPG
 
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Darksiders is the latest multi-console title from THQ. Set to be released during the first week of January, we were lucky enough to get a copy of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions to review prior to its official launch. I had a opportunity to preview the game in early December and I have finally had the chance to play the final review code of this action/RPG hybrid. As I mentioned in my preview a few weeks ago, Darksiders has been on my radar since I saw it at E3 in June, and after spending copious amounts of time with the final version of the game I can now weigh in on how this game plays, looks and sounds. So what did I think? Read on to find out.

Graphics

It is refreshing to see such a bleak and evil game such as Darksiders get such a vibrant and full color palette. It is simply beautiful as it is can be so colorful and bright where it needs to be and in contrast it can be dark and forboding at other times. Once you have passed the first hour or so Darksiders starts to show its true colours (pun intended) as developers Vigil Games runs wild and the results are spectacular. The levels can be immense in size with hues and textures that rival any other high profile game out there right now. I thought the games graphic engine resembled the Gears of War series, but where Gears has almost zero colour Darksiders is full of it. The game begs you at times to just sit back and soak in all the detail. I noticed cob-webs on dusty bookshelves, cars that crush and explode if you beat on them, bubbling lava flowing like water, and even a weird heat signature coming off of War’s Chaoseater. Everything seen in the game is, in my eyes, simply fantastic.

The level designs are cool as well. Often you will find yourself in a subway, hanging off the edge of a crumbling skyscraper, or winding your way through a wet dingy back alley that curls your nose because given the visual representation you know it must smell bad. Again, the fantastic attention to detail permeates further pulling you deeper into its folds. Overall it is beautifully cohesive and a joy to explore.

The character designs and animations are also nothing short of amazing. The main character, War, looks incredibly detailed as do his weapons, and even though he is amazing to watch it is the bosses and other characters that really steal the show. From Samael (a screen filling giant demon), Tiamat (a huge bat), to even the minor enemies, they are all so well designed and animated that they almost jump off the screen.

It's not an understatement to say the game is beautiful, but there are a few hiccups and they are most notable when comparing the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions directly. During my visit with THQ and Vigil Games in early December I found out that the game was built in an Xbox friendly environment and then ported over to the PS3. After playing both versions for the purposes of this review I found that the PS3 has a slightly darker hue than the Xbox 360 version with the game running a tad slower in my opinion. On the flipside, I think the Xbox 360 version has some noticeable screen tearing in places that the PS3 does not, or it is at least less noticeable on Sony's console. You will also see some very minor slowdown during the game on both platforms, but you will be hard pressed to find them specifically, which is a testament to the game's graphic engine. Overall these issues are definitely not game breakers, just something you will notice now and then. The beauty and detail of the game really does overtake what are some minor technical issues and you should enjoy the visual display on screen.

Sound

Darksiders' sound is also quite impressive on both consoles as they employ in-game Dolby Digital which makes great use of all channels, especially the subwoofer. I had to turn my sub down as it began to shake the very insides of my home office in certain spots. Of course I loved it but others in the area did not like it as much given how it shook the walls a little more then they liked. Still there is no sound sweeter than that of your sword cutting heads off enemies with no impunity, as the flow of blood and guts roars past your ears. The clanging and clashing of steel on steel is loud and clear enough to make you want to wince. All in all it is very impressive indeed!

The game's voice acting is pretty much top notch, although it can be a tad over the top now and then. The evil guys and gals sound very convincing and with relatively good scripts you will enjoy what they have to say. Mark Hamill makes another video game appearance, voicing War’s right hand man, actually right hand demon. He sounds very much like his Joker character from Arkham Asylum, but the performance is good enough to allow the similarity to be brushed to the side. One of my favourite voices in the game is Vulgrum. He is the shop keeper with a very bad disposition. His voice is so raspy and evil that I found myself trying to clear my own throat on more than one occasion.

The game's musical selections are of the classical orchestrated type which usually gets buried in the sounds of sword work and battle cries. The music is used sparingly with great mood twisting results when needed; the tension sometimes can be cut with a knife. I enjoyed the included music and if I had any complaint here it would be that there could have been more use of such. Minor quibble aside though, you should enjoy the music that invades the sound of Darksiders.

Gameplay

Penned by legendary comic book artist Joe Madureira (X-Men, Battle Chasers, The Ultimates), Darksiders is set in a Post-Apocalyptic demon-ravaged world where evil forces have prematurely brought about the end of the time. The story focuses on War, the first horseman of the apocalypse, who stands accused of inciting a war between heaven and hell. Dishonored and stripped of his powers, War returns to Earth in search of vengeance and vindication. He must use the resources of demons and enemies that he would normally cast aside.

I picked up Darksiders control scheme very easily. After about 10 minutes or so I was chaining combos leading me to think that the game was going to be an easy hack and slash affair, I could not have been more wrong. The game is definitely not a simple hack and slash affair, although many of those who play it will get through most of the game with this mind set. Darksiders has great flow but it also has an incredible amount of combos, upgrades, and weapons. You can virtually upgrade any part of any weapon to make it stronger (sometimes up to 3 times) or change it to make it do specific tasks. For example, there are times that War will not be able to traverse some areas to activate switches or the like, and in these instances you can opt to use his Cross Blade. This blade looks like a huge Ninja star, and it has similar attributes, but it is not stealthy in the least. In fact the blade rips at anything with extreme speed and ferocity unseen with any Ninja star. War can direct it on multiple targets or pause it to focus on inflicting the greatest amount of damage on one particular enemy. Of course it will also activate switches and come back to War’s hand in one fell swoop. If that is not enough the Cross Blade can also absorb properties of certain elements it passes through, such as fire or plague, and it can translate them into more types of insidious brutality. Darksiders has many weapons of the sort, all with their own use and damage inflicting results. I found the aforementioned Cross Blade one of my favorite weapons as it was incredibly versatile to use in any situation, be it in battle or just wandering the huge epic levels. The game drips with this level of attention to detail and this is what will keep you focused on Darksiders; it really shows how much thought the development team has put into its product.

That brings me to the games control factor on each specific console. I found some differences between the PS3 and Xbox 360 control. Of course the obvious button placements are different. Overall I would say that I had a tougher time with the PS3’s smaller controller. I found on numerous occasions that I would stutter or miss-step on the PS3 while jumping off edges or on to platforms. I think it would be splitting hairs to say the Xbox 360 has a slightly better response time, but in the end I believe it does, just barely though, and most will not even notice it. At the end of the day I managed to steer my way through the game just fine on both consoles but I did encounter the aforementioned trouble on the PS3 and not the Xbox 360.

The control scheme for both controllers looks intimidating as the sheer number of combos and chains that you can get up to is head spinning. I found it a challenge to make use of all moves and weapons and eventually I only used as many as I could master, which was still a lot. Overall it is really not too difficult to learn, but it is the mastering part that will make you sweat. I found that the button placements are deep and involving, but it they are nothing that cannot be conquered without some practice and long play sessions. The latter is definitely not a bad thing given that the game is so enjoyable to play.

Soul collecting is the main way to upgrade your skills and weapons. As I played through the game I found myself collecting as many souls as I could to trade in for more upgrades. Virtually anything in War’s world can be smashed and crushed for more souls. If you need a few more to make up enough for an upgrade, look for cars, light posts, fencing, or anything else in the level to make up the difference. Take your souls and other collectables to Vulgrum where he will reward you with access to his shop of powers and upgrades.

Those who play Darksiders are going to make the obvious comparisons to other games of this nature. Games like God Of War, Devil May Cry, or the upcoming Dantes Inferno comes to mind immediately. I am also reminded in someway of games like Castlvania, Zelda, and even perhaps Panzer Dragoon. This is not in anyway a slight on Darksiders at all as I think that its gameplay is derived from the passion of its developers that most likely love these other games. This to me would be the ultimate compliment, to make a game that stands out from the rest, but reminds those that play it of other great games from the past that we played and loved. Darksiders has quite a few different gaming elements rolled into one and the gameplay varies throughout. Sure, you will do lots of killing in your adventure, but you will come across those times where you may not have to slay anything at all, but instead you will need to unlock puzzles galore, which I must say can be plentiful and sometimes quite difficult. War also needs to appease many a foe to forge ahead in his quest for answers and redemption. This results in his often having to carry out other duties along the way before getting back onto the main trail. These very RPG like scenarios can get a bit tedious, but the game's scope and mini-bosses snaps your attention back quite quickly.

Darksiders should take the average gamer about 20 hours or so to complete. There are huge levels and branching storylines throughout, and War gets his fingers into everything as he tries to redeem his name and attain his former glory. Sadly there is no online play, but other than death matches I am not sure of what you would play in a multiplayer setting. The game does miss an online co-op mode and some might see this as an omission given that most games these days are supporting some sort of co-op feature. For me personally, I think Darksiders is big and epic enough to have supported it, but I am not the developer or publisher. In the end though, the game's single player focus is still one hell of a ride.


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